Delta sues Army over training site

Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The city of Delta Junction has filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the Army from building a high-tech training facility too close to the community.

Fairbanks attorney James DeWitt asked for a permanent injunction in U.S. District Court in Fairbanks on Tuesday afternoon to halt plans for a Stryker Brigade training facility.

Strykers are the Army's new armored vehicles. Their maneuverability and high-powered technology are expected to bridge the gap between heavy armor and light infantry.

The lawsuit claims the Army failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued a finding of no significant impact from the proposed expansion.

City officials have committed $15,000 to the legal action, expected to cost $25,000, and are seeking donations to help pay for the rest. As of Tuesday morning, $3,550 had been donated.

DeWitt said the environmental assessment did not fairly address safety, noise, access and other issues raised by the community.

The lawsuit asks the judge to prevent the awarding of contracts in anticipation of the 2004 construction season and to order a more complete environmental statement.

The Army on June 27 announced a decision to go ahead with the $65 million training areas at the site just southeast of Delta Junction. That was over the objections of nearly 200 residents who attended an open house on the plan in February.

The environmental assessment showed no significant impact to the area, a stance residents and elected officials dispute.

The city sent a letter to Maj. Gen. John M. Brown III, U.S. Army Alaska commanding general, earlier this month, hoping to avoid court action. Maj. R. Daniel Hunter, Transformation Team Alaska public affairs officer, said Brown is responding to that letter.

Hunter said the decision to use the Eddy Drop Zone portion of the 865,000-acre Donnelly Training Area came after careful analysis of many factors.

''It is USARAK policy to build all facilities, including training ranges, in accordance with federal environmental laws and all governing regulations,'' Hunter said.

The city council, Delta Chamber of Commerce, Deltana Community Corp. and others came out in favor of the Army using one of two other proposed sites both farther from homes and businesses for the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility and the Battle Area Complex. Residents said the facility could degrade property values.

Some of their concerns are outlined in a petition put forward by Councilwoman Susan Kemp. The petition asks the Army to be a good neighbor by picking another area of the range for the project. As of Tuesday morning, more than 200 people had signed the petition.

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